It's noon at Harper Junior High School and students fan out to their favorite lunchtime corners of the quad.

Friends Emily Peri, Jolie Law, Emma McCapes and Mary Collins find a sunny spot to catch up on each other's morning. Lunch bags are opened and the friends begin munching on apples, carrots, a garden burger, tofurkey sausage.

It's not the typical teen lunch one would expect. These girls are vegetarians. They have given up meat to live what they believe is a healthier lifestyle, one that is more compassionate toward animals.

While fewer than 5 percent of Americans are vegetarians, teen girls are among the population most interested in giving vegetarianism a try.

Mary Collins, 14, became a vegetarian two years ago when she entered Harper Junior High and became friends with several vegetarians.

"I tried vegetarianism before, but I never really had the willpower because I was the only one in my family," she said.

She credits her friends with helping her stick with it. Her family has adapted to her new lifestyle as well. In her home, pastas are served with meat and nonmeat sauces, stir fry is served with tofu or chicken options, and she says her mom makes a mean Mexican vegetarian lasagna the whole family enjoys.
Like Mary, Emma and Emily, she, too, believes that eating animals is morally wrong. All of the girls are educated on issues relating to meat consumption, like land use, the economics of meat and the treatment of animals raised for food. They check out Web sites like
But is a vegetarian diet healthy for growing bodies?

The American Dietetic Association says yes. The ADA has officially endorsed vegetarianism, stating, "appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthy, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."

Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition and a nutrition professor at UC Davis, agrees, but warns that cutting out meat of a diet is not enough.

"One thing I see teens doing is announce they are vegetarian. They kick meat off the plate and eat more bagels, more cereal," she says. "That's OK, but know what you are doing. It doesn't mean you have carte blanche to eat more candy or drink more soda."

Some education is needed to support this dietary lifestyle, she urges. "They shouldn't assume they are the picture of health just because they are vegetarians."

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